Op-ed: Federal fisheries bill will hurt Florida fishing and seafood
Carol Dover is the president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. She can be reached at [email protected].
Florida is blessed with incredible natural resources, including more than 1,000 miles of beautiful coastline. The diverse and delicious fish off our coasts are a major attractor for the millions of people who visit us each year. Additionally, Floridians across the state make their living catching the fish served in our restaurants and by running charter fishing trips for tourists. Fresh from Florida seafood is a critical part of our economy.
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 200, a bill I believe will damage Florida fishing for commercial and recreational fishers alike. H.R. 200 limits innovation and decision-making by local fishery leaders; it introduces unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles; it institutes new bans on proven conservation tools; and it undermines the science-based conservation approach proven to keep our fisheries healthy.
Over the last decade, we have seen dramatic improvement in the red snapper fishery which was once on the brink of collapse. Under a pilot program, the commercial fishing industry implemented a conservation approach that allowed them more flexibility and ended “derby-style” seasons. These new technologies benefitted commercial and recreational fishing alike, and the red snapper population is now healthy and recovering. Because of these efforts, you can now find red snapper on menus and enjoy a longer recreational red snapper fishing season. H.R. 200 will make programs like this impossible to implement. H. R. 200 will destabilize our state’s seafood industry, limiting the seafood available in our restaurants and having a significantly negative impact on tourism.
Charter captains take Floridians and visitors offshore fishing every day. They know and understand the importance of good fishing grounds and healthy fisheries, and these captains work hard to find new approaches to manage their part of the industry. H.R. 200 arbitrarily bans pilot programs charter captains have introduced, undercuts local decision-making and limits successful, business-minded conservation in the process. Legislation like H.R. 200 stifles innovation and harms tourism and, therefore, Florida’s economy.
Finally, H.R. 200 creates new requirements to review how we divide the fish between the recreational and commercial sectors. This change means that instead of focusing on finding solutions to problems within the fisheries, stakeholders will engage in a political battle for resources that pits fishermen against each other and endangers the stability of the entire seafood industry.
In order for H.R. 200 to become law, the U.S. Senate must also approve the legislation. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association continues to support equitable catch allocation to all sectors of fishing and fisheries management decisions based on current, updated science. We urge all elected officials to vote against legislation that would undermine these principles.